Visa Waiver Program (ESTA)

Visa Waiver Program (ESTA)

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What is the Visa Waiver Program?

The U.S. Visa Waiver Program (VWP) is a program that allows citizens of specific countries to travel to the U.S. for tourism or business purposes for stays of 90 days or less without obtaining a visa. 

The primary goal of the program is to facilitate travel and promote tourism while maintaining security measures.

To be eligible for the Visa Waiver Program, travelers must be citizens of one of the participating countries, which are generally considered low-risk in terms of security and immigration concerns. 

Additionally, travelers must meet certain requirements, such as having a valid Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) approval before boarding a U.S.-bound flight.

It’s important to note that the VWP is not applicable to individuals who plan to stay in the U.S. for longer than 90 days or for purposes other than tourism or business. 

In such cases, individuals need to obtain the appropriate visa before traveling to the U.S.

Who is eligible for the Visa Waiver Program?

To qualify for the U.S. Visa Waiver Program (VWP) all these requirements must be met:

  • Citizenship: Travelers must be citizens of a country that is a participant in the Visa Waiver Program. See the list of countries below
  • Purpose of Visit: The Visa Waiver Program is designed for short stays for tourism or business purposes only. Travelers must not have plans to stay in the U.S. for more than 90 days and must not engage in activities that require a different type of visa (for example, student visa or work visa)
  • ESTA Authorization: Before boarding a U.S.-bound flight, travelers must obtain approval through the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA). ESTA is an online system that determines the eligibility of individuals to travel under the Visa Waiver Program. It is recommended to apply for ESTA well in advance of travel.
  • Passport Requirements: Travelers must have a valid electronic passport (e-passport) with a digital chip containing biometric information. The passport must be valid for at least six months beyond the intended date of departure from the U.S.

List of countries eligible for Visa Waiver Program

The list of countries participating in the U.S. Visa Waiver Program (VWP):

  • Andorra
  • Australia
  • Austria
  • Belgium
  • Brunei
  • Chile
  • Croatia
  • Czech Republic
  • Denmark
  • Estonia
  • Finland
  • France
  • Germany
  • Greece
  • Hungary
  • Iceland
  • Ireland
  • Israel
  • Italy
  • Japan
  • Latvia
  • Liechtenstein
  • Lithuania
  • Luxembourg
  • Malta
  • Monaco
  • Netherlands
  • New Zealand
  • Norway
  • Poland
  • Portugal
  • San Marino
  • Singapore
  • Slovakia
  • Slovenia
  • South Korea
  • Spain
  • Sweden
  • Switzerland
  • Taiwan
  • United Kingdom*

*To be eligible to travel under the VWP, British citizens must have the unrestricted right of permanent abode in England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, the Channel Islands, and the Isle of Man.

Who is not eligible for the Visa Waiver Program?

The following individuals are not eligible for the Visa Waiver Program:

  • Citizenship: Citizens of countries that are not designated as participants in the Visa Waiver Program
  • Dual Citizenship: Nationals of VWP countries who are also nationals of Cuba, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Iran, Iraq, Sudan, or Syria
  • Travel to certain countries: Nationals of VWP countries who have traveled to or been present in Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, or Yemen on or after March 1, 2011 (with limited exceptions for travel for diplomatic or military purposes in the service of a VWP country)
  • Travel to Cuba: Nationals of VWP countries who have traveled to or been present in Cuba on or after January 12, 2021 (with limited exceptions for travel for diplomatic or military purposes in the service of a VWP country)

These categories of individuals must obtain a visa prior to traveling to the U.S.

What is ESTA?

ESTA stands for Electronic System for Travel Authorization. It is an automated system that determines the eligibility of visitors to travel to the U.S. under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP).

The VWP allows citizens of certain countries to travel to the U.S. for tourism or business purposes for stays of 90 days or less without obtaining a visa.

Here are some key points about ESTA:

  • Mandatory for VWP Travelers: Travelers from Visa Waiver Program countries are required to obtain an approved ESTA before boarding a U.S.-bound flight. This requirement applies to both air and sea travel.
  • Online Application: The ESTA application is submitted online and can be completed through the official U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) website. It is recommended to apply for ESTA well in advance of the planned travel date
  • Authorization Status: After submitting the online application, travelers will receive an almost immediate response indicating whether their ESTA application has been approved, denied, or if additional information is required.
  • Valid for Multiple Trips: An approved ESTA is generally valid for up to two years or until the passport expires, whichever comes first. During this period, travelers can make multiple trips to the U.S. for short stays (up to 90 days per visit) for tourism or business.
  • Not a Visa: It’s important to note that while ESTA is a travel authorization, it is not a visa. It is specifically for travelers from VWP countries who meet certain criteria.
  • Updated Information: Travelers should update their ESTA information if there are any changes to their passport, contact details, or other relevant information.

How much does it cost to apply for the Visa Waiver Program?

The application fee for submitting Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) is $21.

Acceptable forms of payment include:

  • MasterCard
  • VISA
  • American Express
  • Discover (JCB or Diners Club only)
  • PayPal

How to apply for the Visa Waiver Program?

Applying for the U.S. Visa Waiver Program (VWP) involves the following steps:

Step 1. Visit the Official ESTA Website:

  • Go to the official ESTA website. Make sure you are using the official website to avoid potential scams.

Step 2. Start the Application:

  • Click on the “Create New Application” button to begin the application process.

Step 3. Complete the Required Information:

  • Fill out the required information in the online application form. This typically includes personal details, passport information, contact information, and details about your travel plans.

Step 4. Answer Eligibility Questions:

  • Respond to questions related to your eligibility for the Visa Waiver Program, such as criminal history, previous visa denials, and other relevant factors.

Step 5. Review and Confirm Information:

  • Carefully review all the information you have entered to ensure its accuracy

Step 6. Pay the ESTA Application Fee:

  • Pay the required ESTA application fee of $21. Payment is made online using a credit or debit card.

Step 7. Receive and Record the Application Number:

  • After submitting the application and payment, you will receive an immediate response indicating whether your application has been approved, denied, or if additional information is required. It’s advisable to record the application number for reference.

How long can I stay in the US on the Visa Waiver Program?

Under the U.S. Visa Waiver Program (VWP), eligible travelers are allowed to stay in the U.S. for a period of up to 90 days for purposes of tourism or business. 

It’s important to note the following key points:

  • Short-Term Stay: The Visa Waiver Program is designed for short visits to the U.S. It is not suitable for individuals planning to stay in the country for an extended period or for purposes such as work, study, or long-term residence.
  • No Extensions: The 90-day limit is not extendable. If a traveler needs to stay in the U.S. for a longer duration or for purposes not covered by the VWP, they must apply for the appropriate visa before traveling.
  • Multiple Trips: While the maximum stay is 90 days per visit, the Visa Waiver Program allows for multiple trips within the approved two-year period (or until the passport expires, whichever comes first) without the need to reapply for ESTA. Each visit, however, must still adhere to the 90-day limit.

Can I extend my stay on the Visa Waiver Program?

No, the stay under the U.S. Visa Waiver Program (VWP) cannot be extended beyond the initial 90 days. 

If you find that you need to stay in the U.S. for a longer duration or for purposes not covered by the VWP, you must leave the U.S. prior to authorized period of stay and explore other visa options. 

You can view the date your authorized period of stay expires in your online I-94 (Arrival/Departure Record).

Attempting to remain in the U.S. beyond the authorized period can have serious consequences (such as a three-year or ten-year ban).

Related Links:

B-1/B-2 Visitor Visa